By Carl Davidson
Gregory Wilpert is an intellectual of the left now teaching political science at Brooklyn College, after some time spent in Venezuela. He recently wrote a long interesting piece on Z-Net about our electoral system, mentioning Bill Fletcher and myself in passing. He was perplexed as to finding a way forward, and spelled out these options:
In short, we could call these three positions about electoral politics, non-participation (or boycott), lesser evil voting (with or without Democratic party takeover), and third party voting.
Each of these three positions makes important points that are convincing and difficult to refute.
How can one counter the main argument of lesser-evil voting, that we have a moral obligation to prevent the worst from happening to the most oppressed? On the other hand, if that lesser evil is also involved in atrocities, as is all too often the case with the foreign policy of Democratic presidents, then wouldn’t lesser-evil voting perpetuate evil?
But doesn’t the solution of voting for a third party seems equally hopeless, since the third party candidate might just take votes from the marginally better candidate and enable the election of the even worse candidate? There seems to be no easy solution to this debate. One possible compromise solution has been to urge people to vote for the lesser evil in state where the races is close, but to vote for third party candidates in races where progressives are unlikely to make a difference in the outcome (a position that very many prominent U.S. progressives advocated in 2004 and in 2000).
Also, given that each side has convincing arguments, this helps explain why the progressive movement is so weak in the U.S.: the diversity and depth of conviction of attitudes towards electoral politics makes unity within the left nearly impossible.
What this strategy debate points to is precisely the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system. This is the kind of debate you would expect to see in countries with profoundly dysfunctional democracies.
If the U.S. had a more democratic system, there would be a general consensus among progressives to participate in the democratic process. The reason you do not see this kind of debate in the democracies of Western Europe or of Latin America (at least not since the 1970’s in Western Europe and since the 1990’s in Latin America) is that these countries, by and large, have far more democratic political systems than the U.S. does.
I thought this was too restricted, and that there was a fourth option, and wrote this reply:
Wilpert does a fair job of summarizing the system, and I have no quarrel with his suggestions for reforms in the electoral system.
But I think there in a 4th option--the one I hold to. That is to build a 'party within a party' among Democratic voters at the base, much as PDA does, but not with the illusion that we are going to 'move the Democrats to the left.' I think Wilpert is right that this isn't very realistic Rather, the approach should be to build our strength in that context, along all the fault lines in the clusters and coalitions of forces under the Dem umbrella, until the whole thing implodes and shatters. The aim is to get rid of it, not reform it--but in a way that helps the left more than the right.
The precedent is what happened to the antebellum Whig party.
Then forces on the outside, our forces on the former 'inside,' and new emerging forces, can come together to make a new 'first' party.
Again, the precedent is the GOP, spurred by the Radical Republicans and base group tied to the First International, under Lincoln,
Of course capitalism today is not quite the same as in the crisis of the 1860s. Slavery will be replaced by finance capital, austerity and war as the organizing focus.
Others may have better ideas. If so, I'm all ears.
Feel free to post your two cents on the matter…